Thinking of a romantic city break at Easter? For the next in our series of 48 hour guides, Otto Rich takes us to Paris for a weekend romp on a budget…
Never the cheapest of cities, the soaring value of the euro has put Paris up there with London and Toyko and the world’s most expensive mini-breaks. But whilst a half-litre of beer will easily set you back €7 these days, it is still possible to enjoy a trip to the French capital on a backpacker’s budget.
Lounge around the Louvre… Start by leaving Châtelet, the city’s busiest metro station, and stroll down the Rue St-Honoré, taking in the architecture and ambience of one Paris’ most ancient and celebrated streets. Although it is a bit of a tourist trap, you should not miss the world-famous Louvre (free on the last Sunday of every month, otherwise €9) – it’s easily one of the most spectacular (and vast) museums on Earth. The tiny Mona Lisa might be a let-down, but this vast former palace houses hundreds of lesser-known and infinitely more spectacular works of art and sculptures.
Go for a stroll… Grab a sandwich and relax on a bench in the beautiful Jardin des Tuileries before strolling through the Place de la Concorde to its phallic obelisk, brought back to France by Napoléon’s troops. Then wander along the Champs-Elysées – Oxford Street, Fifth Avenue and Las Ramblas rolled into one – where chic Dior-clad Parisiennes rub shoulders with flustered American tourists and besuited businessmen. Just don’t stop for a drink, unless you want to blow your entire budget in one afternoon!
Beer in Belleville…You’ll probably be gasping for refreshment by now, but avoid spending your money in the city’s pricey west end. Instead, hop on the metro and alight at Belleville, traditionally a run-down, working-class district that is now one of the city’s most vibrant and multicultural areas, favoured by artists and students.
Have dinner in one of the super-cheap but excellent Chinese restaurants uphill from Belleville metro, and grab a beer in one of the quartier’s numerous basement bars. They come and go out of fashion all the time – ask around and you’ll be pointed in the right direction (and maybe pick up a few ‘amis’ on the way).
Dance the night away… If you’ve got any energy left, hit Paris’ nightlife. While some of the trendier clubs on the Champs-Elysées will charge you up to €30 entry (and don’t even ask about the drinks), some of the more alternative venues can be fairly reasonable, particularly if you try and arrive early.
Try intimate Le Triptyque (nearest metro: Bourse) or thumping Rex Club (Bonne Nouvelle) for the latest in Techno, House and Electro, where you can stomp away till the early hours and beyond. Or if salsa’s more your thing, Favela Chic (République), a club so popular it’s now got a branch in London’s Shoreditch, serves endless shots of tequila while revelers dance on the tables.
Sleep in Style…When the time finally comes to rest your head, it might as well be somewhere chic. Head to the newest hostel in Paris, St. Christopher’s Inn (Crimee) in the up-and-coming 19th district.
Perk up…Recover from the night before with a steaming black coffee and pain au chocolat at the first bar that grabs your fancy. Take it au zinc (at the bar, standing up) as most locals do, and you’ll save yourself up to 60% on the price were you to enjoy it sitting down…
Left-Bank chic…Head to the Left Bank for bohemian Montparnasse, traditionally one of the two artists’ ghettos (the other being Montmartre). Although many of the artists were long since priced out of the area by the bohèmes’–bourgeois (champagne socialists) it remains one of Paris’s most pleasant and quirky neighbourhoods for a morning’s stroll. Poke round the cemetery and hunt for the graves of Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir and Samuel Beckett; or slink off to the little-known red-light district along Rue de la Gaîté that’s less tacky and tourist-ridden than its more famous northern cousin in Pigalle.
Tennis, anyone? Continue north and have a (free) round of table tennis in the Jardin du Luxembourg, one of the capital’s most beguiling parks, with its formal gardens and palace that houses the Sénat, France’s upper house of parliament. Grab a baguette (usually only about €1) and some cheese from the supermarket and sit and graze on one of the benches surrounding the marvellous fountain.
You could also sneak a quick visit to the church of Saint-Sulpice – made famous in the English-speaking world by the Da Vinci Code, but one of Paris’s most beautiful and serene houses of worship (and far better an experience than the endless queues and tourist scrum that is Notre Dame).
Smoke like Sartre…Take a short metro ride to the Latin Quarter (alight at Cardinal Lemoine), so-called because it is home to the famous Sorbonne University where once upon a time all teaching was done in Latin (and not because it is home to a lot of Spanish and Portuguese immigrants, as I once thought!).
Le Quartier Latin oozes left-bank, gitanes-smoking sophistication. While you will nowadays be banished outside if you wish to sit under a cloud of nicotine à la Jean-Paul Sartre, you can still smoke from one of the steep pavements leading up to the Panthéon – the awe-inspiring neo-classicist monolith that is part-Church, part-burial place.
Hip happy hour…End your day in the Marais, the trendy cobble-street Jewish quarter – which is now also the city’s Gay district – and take a well-earned aperitif. Try any of the bars along the main drag or up one of the side-streets before about 8pm and you should catch happy hour, when you can get a pint of beer or a cocktail for under €5.
Head for the hills…Enjoy some dinner in one of the Marais’ excellent value little bistros before heading, with a couple of bottles of cheap red plonk in your hands, up to Montmartre (a bit of a trek from the Marais, I admit, but it’ll be well worth it) – the dreamy village-within-the-city perched atop a hill in the north of Paris (Metro: Anvers). Climb the hundreds of steps up from the metro station and, when you’re suitably tired, take a seat, enjoy the staggering view and sip down your well-earned vin rouge.
Guest poster Otto Rich lived in Paris for six months in 2007, enjoying the view and plenty of vin rouge whilst he was at it…. If you have budget travel tips to share about Paris, or a 48 hour guide to your favorite city, get in touch below!